1. Over centuries of winter season celebrations, Santa Claus has been presented in many different guises … but the Vancouver Aquarium has its own unique way to celebrate the season with a dramatic, colorful Scuba Santa. We share this image to wish our readers the best of the season and fulfilled dreams in their 2018 travels.
2. Our readers delight in discovering cultures, cuisines and natural areas away from the crowds of mainstream tourism. We spotlight a small-group operator that has perfected this skill of backroad explorations for over 25 years in countries across Europe.
3. Travel with a Challenge is one of many organizations raising awareness of Venice, Italy’s fascination for travelers, while recognizing the measurable destruction of such a treasure by mass tourism, particularly with the overwhelming presence of large cruise ships. The latest government initiatives to balance the risks facing Venice are something to celebrate with cautious optimism.
4. A specialty expertise in World Heritage Sites, great animal migration safaris in East Africa, chef-led culinary quests and private train journeys make this small-group operator worth considering as it celebrates 40 years of building creative itineraries.
5. We salute an inspiring charitable collaboration between travel industry visionaries as they have come together to make Jordan bicycle-friendly for the daily transportation needs of its poorer citizens and for planting the seeds of cycling tourism as a much-needed income source for local small businesses. This is a story worth reading!
Before planning your next adventure, you may compare accommodation alternatives with sites such as www.trivago.com or use their data base for further information about your destination and read traveler hotel reviews.
Check Travel Golf Guide. Play golf in Algarve.
Wishing Readers Happy Holidays and Memorable Travels in 2018
No matter your religious persuasion or personal reflections on the Christmas season, this wonderful image of “Scuba Santa” will be sure to bring a smile to readers of our December/January 2018 issue of TravelWatch. He joins us in wishing everyone the best of the season and a very Happy New Year in 2018.
For six weeks during the holiday season, the Vancouver Aquarium, www.vanaqua.org, hosts this colorful, jolly visitor at 12:30 p.m. each day as Scuba Santa dons his flippers and dives with the colorful cold-water creatures collected from the Strait of Georgia, a body of water just off the city.
An Ocean Wise initiative, this facility is one of the world’s leading accredited aquariums, dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life and healthy clean oceans. Since opening in 1956, the Vancouver Aquarium has served as an ocean education ambassador welcoming more than 40 million people from around the world.
Readers visiting Vancouver any time of year should flag the Aquarium’s popular After Hours, an adults-only event that takes place six times a year. During this kid-free event, guests can explore the Aquarium’s spectacular marine galleries with food and drink in hand, and enjoy specially-themed programs.
A few minutes spent browsing two articles in our Travel Article Library will convince travelers that Vancouver on British Columbia’s west coast is a worthy year-round destination. We invite you to read “Special Spaces and Places around Vancouver”, and a unique spotlight on “Vancouver’s Granville Island”.
Follow Those Back Roads to Fully Appreciate Europe
As one of Europe’s earliest small-group operators, Back-Roads Touring http://backroadstouring.com/, has over 25 years’ experience opening doors on the unexpected and exploring roads less traveled. Whether it is iconic sites or the surprise of something totally unknown, many signature experiences are guaranteed with each itinerary delivered at a relaxed pace that suits senior travelers very well.
Thanks to its small-group philosophy, the company can offer guests a tempting portfolio of boutique accommodation full of local character rather than needing to rely on large chain hotels. No two hotels are the same with stays in traditional hostelries, medieval and renaissance castles, and fine country estates.
Also expect memorable culinary experiences. With a maximum of 18 people in each Back-Roads group, meals can be scheduled in authentic local locations. Whether it is lunch at an iconic seafood restaurant or a captain’s dinner on a private Croatian yacht, menus are a superior reflection of the country visited and something special for every palate!
With small group and tailor-made tours across 21 European countries (including Iceland), Back-Roads Touring understands the interests of its clientele, 85% of which are between 40 and 65 years. On their itineraries featuring a good balance of renowned and lesser-known sites, there are no long drives and no early starts!
And then there’s Morocco, which is close but not quite a fit within the borders of Europe. However, the country is worth a detour to experience it the Back-Roads way, including sleeping in a Sahara Desert tent, taking a cooking class, and visiting Morocco’s finest UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Images courtesy of Back-Roads Touring.
Venice Agrees to Large Cruise Ship Ban … Finally!!
The November 8, 2017 story in Britain’s TravelMole newsletter made my week by announcing that large cruise ships are to be permanently banned from the center of Venice under new rules to be introduced within the next four years. It is disappointing that the ban can’t come sooner but I suppose contracts have been signed and must be fulfilled, and infrastructure has to be built. Apparently, work needs to be done on the new route before it is ready to receive large cruise ships. Lovers of this unique city will have to be vigilant to ensure there is no backsliding on this undertaking.
In future, ships weighing 100,000 tonnes or more will have to use the less glamorous industrial port of Marghera, which is thankfully a long way from Venice’s famous Grand Canal which was being dwarfed by their presence. Presumably, cruise ship guests will then be bussed into the city on tour.
Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the plan, which has been agreed to by an Italian governmental committee, answered the demands of residents, tourism businesses and conservation groups concerned about damage to the city’s shallow lagoon and canals. “We want it to be clear to UNESCO and the whole world that we have a solution,” he said. “This takes into account all the jobs created by the cruise industry, which we absolutely couldn’t afford to lose, and we can start to work seriously on planning cruises.”
For some time, the powerful UNESCO World Heritage Site committee has been threatening to place Venice on its list of endangered World Heritage Sites if Italy fails to come up with a plan to ban giant cruise ships from the city’s lagoon by 2017. Such an “endangered” designation of a previously-selected site is always viewed as a sign of neglect and a deterrent to uncontrolled tourism, as it should be. It can ultimately result in a World Heritage Site being de-listed if recommended changes are not carried out.
Indeed, Venice is a cultural treasure of the world currently attracting more than 25 million visitors annually. Visitors certainly have a role to play in being careful not to love this unique city to death. See our richly-illustrated feature article about visiting Venice and a discussion of its many challenges.
Air travel trivia: Global airlines carried 3.8 billion passengers in 2016, an increase of 7% on the previous year. Statistics compiled by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show passengers took an additional 242 million air trips in 2016.
Unique Itineraries From World Heritage Sites to African Safaris
Many tour operators these days recognize the value of including UNESCO World Heritage Sites in their itineraries, while feedback from our own readers indicates that such inclusions help them make travel decisions about which operator to travel with. However, it remains extremely rare to find any operator that dedicates an entire division, a 24-page color brochure, and an exclusive website to creating itineraries that immerse in destinations with a wealth of WHS riches as a major focus. Bestway Tours & Safaris, www.bestway.com, is that exception.
Established a decade ago under the guidance of Bestway’s founder and Chief Explorer, Mahmood Poonja, he recognized that UNESCO World Heritage Sites reflect the vital role they have played in shaping an understanding of our world today. While the majority of guests are over 50 years, lately there has also been a growing interest among families to travel together and see World Heritage Sites. This is usually parents wanting to educate their children, or intergenerational travel where grandparents take their grandkids on meaningful heritage journeys.
“There are a growing number of travelers who are passionate about exploring such destinations,” says the Chief Explorer. “Our World Heritage Tours division was created in direct response to the interests of our travelers themselves, ranging across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Such cultural and natural wonders belong to all of us and visiting them on a tour gives travelers the opportunity to experience them first hand in many challenging, unfamiliar spaces and places.”
Bestway Tours & Safaris was founded in Canada in 1978, today offering “journeys without frontiers” the world over. Around 80% of clients are well traveled, well educated, adventurous people age 50 and above. With some itineraries ranging up to 36 days, there is a vast collection of hosted journeys, train journeys, tours with a remote island focus, journeys around the world and several new 10-day Great African Migration Safaris in Tanzania and Kenya.
“The Great Migration Safaris make an excellent family holiday,” points out the Chief Explorer. “With common interests for the 6, 16, 46 and 66 year olds (and even beyond) to bond together while enjoying a seamless holiday together, these experiences will certainly remain as any family’s wildest time together!”
Images courtesy of Bestway Tours & Safaris.
Travel Industry Visionaries Bring Donated Bicycles and
Community Development to Jordan … Inspiration Leads to Action!
Moved by a passionate story from Malia Asfour, Jordan’s Tourism Board Director for North America, a small group of travel professionals gathered for dinner in Anchorage, Alaska, and came up with a plan to benefit impoverished rural communities half a world away in Jordan. How? Through the donation of used bicycles, the building of bike shops and support for tour guide and bicycle business training.
At the table were Keith Sproule, Executive Director of Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy and Dan Austin, founder of Austin Adventures and the non-profit Wheels of Change that began donating bikes and operational skills to remote communities in Africa in 2010. There too was Muna Haddad, Director of the Jordan-based social enterprise Baraka whose mission is to support sustainable tourism while conserving and protecting cultural heritage and natural resources.
Once the fire was lit, this core group began to reach out to other tourism professionals for additional support and received commitments from World Nomads/Footprint Network who stepped up and agreed to help provide funding along with Tourism Cares who also committed to additional money to assist the establishment of community bicycle enterprises.
The wheels then began to move refreshingly fast. Four months after the plan was hatched in Alaska, the first large container of 260 mountain bikes, spare parts and tools organized by Wheels of Change departed Billings, Montana for Feynan, Jordan. Present for the container opening were two Austin Adventures guides assigned to do much of the mechanical training, along with Muna Haddad of Baraka, tasked to be the on-ground project manager. Haddad and her staff are working with the beneficiary communities, investing in setting up the shops, conducting training and handling the logistics of ground transport into and around Jordan.
The plan is to establish two bike shops in Um Qais Village and Feynan. The shipping container will be repurposed as a bike rental and sales shop. Each shop will also be the starting point for local bike tours. Four individuals from Um Qais are currently being trained as tour guides, bringing new employment opportunities to the village.
A second container of 412 mountain bikes, spare parts and wheels was shipped by A&K Philanthropy in partnership with Working Bikes in Chicago. A&K Philanthropy covered the expense of the container and shipment.
Baraka will assist in establishing another bike shop venture in Madaba as well as a bike share program at Petra University making it the first bicycle-friendly campus in Jordan.
Jordan is seeing an increasing interest in cycling according to its tourism board. But currently only the affluent can afford to own a bike. In rural areas bikes are very scarce. Access to them at an affordable price would bring increased mobility to the population. Bikes would facilitate more students getting to school, aid in creating more commerce between communities, offer better access to health care and help create new skills and business opportunities.
Jordan is actively building partnerships with adventure travel companies, introducing new cycling itineraries and mapping out adventurous bike trails nationwide. Recently completed is the Jordan Trail, a long distance multi-use trail running the length of Jordan from Um Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south. It presently offers 40 days of uninterrupted hiking over more than 650 kilometers of trails, traveling through 52 villages and towns on its way. Perhaps recreational biking will soon become a new option for travelers.
“It’s beautiful to see an idea come to life,” posted Haddad on Facebook. “This is how we change the world, one idea at a time and a lot of hard work in between.”
Images courtesy of Wheels of Change.